There’s a lot of death on Tim Kasher’s new album, Adult Film.
On the record’s first single, “Truly Freaking Out,” Kasher wrestles with the idea that his friends and family will all die some day, and he isn’t too happy about it. He bleakly points out over rolling keyboards: “I know, I know, I know the end is near / I know, I know it’s all downhill from here. / We’re all cascading to our graves / Tugging back at gravity’s reigns.”
At age 39, has Kasher, a staunch atheist, finally come to the realization that dead means dead, and there’s no coming back?
“I touch on it a lot it seems throughout the record,” Kasher said via cell while walking to Logan Square in his newly adopted hometown of Chicago. “There’s this kind of sobering that comes with age that anyone of us experiences who has gotten older and on the other side.”
One of Kasher’s dreams in his youth was to be a jazz drummer when he retires. “I wanted to be the cool guy that plays at a bar down the street,” he said. “Now that I’m turning 40 next year, I’m putting that aside. You start having sober realizations of how much time you have left. I also know that so much time has been nicked off, trimmed, shorn from our existence. I don’t feel like I’ve wasted time. I want to keep having more time, if anything.”
He may never become the next Buddy Rich or Joe Voda, but if the clock quits ticking for Kasher, he would leave behind an impressive list of other musical accomplishments that his loved ones would be proud of. Kasher is arguably one of the best personal songwriters to come out of Omaha in the past 20 years, alongside his old pal Conor Oberst and local folk legend Simon Joyner. Since ’97 he’s written and produced 12 full-length albums both as a solo artist and with his bands Cursive and The Good Life, almost all of them released on indie label Saddle Creek Records.
An entire generation of Nebraska singer/songwriters credits Kasher both as an influence and a survivor. In a time when musicians are being strangled by the economics of a financially crippled music industry, Kasher has continued to make a living doing nothing but music, though he’s beginning to diversify.
Last year he became partners in one of Omaha’s most notorious bars -- O’Leaver’s on South Saddle Creek Rd. Kasher is a co-owner along with Cursive bandmates Ted Stevens and Matt Maginn, and long-time O’Leaver’s manager Chris Machmuller, lead singer of Saddle Creek band Ladyfinger.
“It’s hard to consider it my bar,” Kasher said. “It’s really their bar, but I’m glad to be able to contribute monetarily.”
While portfolio diversification was the main reason for joining the partnership, “the first reason was because Matt was interested in buying it,” Kasher said. “We've been working together forever and he's always wanted to diversify but wanted to do it in a way that seems enjoyable. Who wants to buy a paper company because he hears it’s a good investment?”
Kasher said eight or so years ago when Cursive and The Good Life were at a financial peak, people just assumed he was “living high off the hog. I’m basing this on people I run into in other states who have lofty concepts of my success that don't even remotely match reality,” he said.
“When someone writes a book, you figure ‘Well now, they must be loaded. They wrote a book.’ But in reality they're actually a struggling teacher. These days most people think that I should have another job. I'm pretty much off the radar; nothing I do elicits some kind of suggestion of a lot of success, but I manage to do okay anyway. My career, at this point, has some girth to it.”
It also helps that Kasher does more than one musical project at a time. “A lot of why music is still a full-time job is because I tend to do it about twice as much as other musicians in that I release under multiple monikers” he said. “I always knew that (Cursive and The Good Life) kept each other afloat. When I set The Good Life aside it was like I had stopped my bar tending job. The money dwindled.”
Not for long. Kasher began releasing solo work with 2010’s The Game of Monogamy and its follow-up, 2011’s More Songs from the Monogamy Sessions EP. The perennial question with every release is how Kasher decides which material will go toward which project. Cursive music tends to be harder, faster and more acidic than the lighter, more melody-driven tunes heard on Good Life albums. The music for Adult Film falls somewhere in between.
Recorded at Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio Studio in Chicago and mixed by John Congleton at Elmwood Recording in Dallas, Adult Film is the most tuneful Kasher project since The Good Life’s Help Wanted Nights in 2007. Songs like failure anthem “A Raincloud Is a Raincloud,” breakup drama “The Willing Cuckold,” and the pounding “A Looping Distress Signal” are as close to straight-up rock songs as Kasher can probably get.
Never has keyboards played such a dominant role in one of his productions. From the pounding organ on “Life and Limbo” to the wonky rolling synth on the aforementioned “Truly Freaking Out” that sounds like a Kubrick-ian nightmare to the piano-tightrope walk on “Where Your Heart Lies,” keys are on almost every song.
“We had that in mind from the onset,” Kasher said, pointing to collaborator Patrick Newbery who is credited with organ, keys, synths and horns on the recording. Newbery is joined on the record by Sara Bertuldo (bass, vocals), Dylan Ryan (drums) and a handful of other musicians caught in Kasher’s orbit.
So why were the songs on Adult Film used for a solo album?
“It's just what I'm doing right now, and it's logical,” Kasher said. “I want to get my own name off the ground a bit more. We’re all getting older and if I were to continue to do any of this, it’ll be easier to lean on just myself to put out an album.”
That said, there’s little doubt about Cursive’s future. Last year the band released the full-length I Am Gemini on Saddle Creek Records and spent a good part of the year on the road. Saddle Creek Records said the album had U.S. Soundscans of 10,379 and more than 430,000 track streams on Spotify. Kasher said he was satisfied at how well that record performed.
“It gave us (Cursive) a lot of vigor, we had a great time being together and felt good about the finished product,” he said. “We got a chance to play the songs every night to a lot of people who were crazy for it. It was a lot of fun. In the largest sense we’ve become a niche band. We’re kind of a small posse, but a good community.”
The future of The Good Life, however, is more in question. “I feel that all the projects are still alive. Some are more dormant than others,” Kasher said. “The Good Life is very dormant now, but we still chat and think about it. I still try to look at my schedule long-term and think where I might do this or that band. In my head, it’s not dead at all. My impression is that we'll all get back together in time.”
Even if that time is running out. While there is a looming sense of despair on his new record, Kasher said, “We’re still living in a good age. There’s a lot of joy everywhere. Everyone is having babies. We’re on the edge between getting joyful phone calls that someone is in labor and getting calls that someone is in the ICU.”
Tim Kasher plays with Laura Stevenson and The Brigadiers Saturday, Oct. 5, at The Waiting Room, 6212 Maple Street. Showtime is 9 p.m.. Admission is $11. For more information, go to onepercentproductions.com.